Often we are so heavily focused on giving, we forget that receiving is a practice all by itself. The Sufis point to the moon as a reminder.
How many of us find it uncomfortable to receive? A gift? A compliment? A friend offering to pay? I know I do.
We can practice gratitude for the things that come our way, but that doesn’t always help us feel less overwhelmed or less awkward in that moment of receiving. Yet the Sufis tell us that if we want to live a life of love, it’s imperative that we get to know what it means to receive—to stop resisting.
The Sufis and the yogis have a long and connected history. It’s no coincidence that yoga teachers quote Sufi poets Rumi and Hafiz in classes. The two mystical paths share the same passion for devotion and surrender on the path to awakening. They also both recognize the importance of balance, of giving and receiving, of the sun and the moon.
In Sufism, there are 99 names or qualities of the Beloved, and each represents a facet for us to explore and experience in order to become united with this Beloved. The second of these “pathways of the heart” as Neil Douglas-Klotz calls them, is Ar-Rahim, The Moon of Love, and when called to it, we are asked to deeply consider our capacity to receive, and to look to the moon.
I love this pathway.
The Good of Giving
Our greater emphasis on giving is understandable. We are genetically wired to give—scientific studies show that when we give, the brain releases the pleasure hormone dopamine. We also are reminded to give much more often—especially if following a spiritual path. In the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita we are reminded that service is a path to self-realization. Generosity, dana paramita, is the first of Buddha’s six perfections. In Kabbalah, giving is vital to overcoming self-centeredness. And in Judeo-Christian religions we are told that “it is in giving that we receive.”
Ar-Rahim, the Moon of Love, teaches us that when we allow ourselves to receive, the world gets our moonbeams.
This encouragement is wonderful, and there are clear practices we can follow to cultivate our giving nature: being of service to others, performing random acts of kindness, volunteering, donating, saying kind words….
But by comparison receiving can feel far less noble an action. There aren’t really any clear guidelines for practice as it is almost assumed we receive by default. As such, we’re not very adept at it. We confuse receiving with “taking.” We can judge receiving as selfish, or only suitable for certain people who we deem “needy” enough. How many of us do not practice the art of receiving, but simply regard it as something to fit it in “between” giving? “OK, I’ll accept your help,” we might acknowledge with defeat, while we figure out how we’re going to pay them back.
But the Sufis ask us to rethink how we view receiving, and to reflect upon the moon to help us do so.
The Moon of Love
When the moon is full, the light that bounces off it is enough to illuminate streets, yards, forests, lakes, and oceans. How many of us have enjoyed a night bathed in moonlight? Yet, upon exploration, we find that the moon isn’t really “giving” us any light—it’s receiving light from the sun. We simply benefit from the reflection. Ar-Rahim, The Moon of Love, teaches us that when we allow ourselves to receive, the world gets our moonbeams.
As we look at receiving through this new lens, we can begin to imagine… What if the moon could grow and receive even more sunlight? How many more moonbeams would the world get? While the moon can’t get any bigger, there is no end to the love we can receive if we practice opening our hearts and letting love in.
This requires giving up our judgments, and exploring the moments when we feel uncomfortable receiving. Why is it we find it hard to receive gifts? Do we feel obligated to give back? Why are some compliments hard to accept? Do we think we’re not worthy? Why don’t we let others pay? Do we judge those with less money as weak? These are all just pointers to what Sufi poet Rumi would call our “barriers to love”.
Practicing receiving helps us uncover these barriers. It also helps us recognize that if we think giving is “better” than receiving, we are mistaken. They are one action, as the sun and moon teach us. To resist receiving is to resist giving.
I learned this beautiful lesson not under the moon, but in a checkout line at a New York City supermarket. The woman in front of me, a stranger, was gathering her food stamps and coupons to pay when I felt an internal nudge to offer to buy her groceries. But I hesitated. I started thinking about whether she would be offended—or what if she said no?
It was at that very moment the woman turned to the teller and said: “And I would like to pay for the groceries of this lady behind me.” I was shocked. It was like we both heard the giving/receiving voice at the same time, but her mind did not get in the way. Her heartfelt capacity to give was far greater than mine.
Be assured, it was not easy to receive, although I did so with great thanks. My mind had several opinions about what it meant to accept such a gift from someone who appeared to have less money than myself. I would have been much more comfortable being the one to pay. But if we want to unite with the Beloved, then it’s not the comfortable path we take. As Rumi says: “Run from what’s comfortable.” If receiving is your barrier to love, then it’s worth making receiving your practice. And if we need a reminder, we need only look out the window at night.
Helen Avery is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, & ordained Minister, living in New York City.
"Asana. meditation, reading and writing - for me, these all are gifts that enable me to learn and practice what it means to live from my heart. They help me to remember in all moments, outside of solitude, that there is only love."